13 July 2015

The tiles are on the floor!

We've finally finished laying the floor tiles in the downstairs bathroom!

Stu has also been building the laundry walls while I've been grouting the floor.

During this heatwave, we've had to adjust our schedule to enable us to continue working. We get up at 6am, drink our freshly squeezed lemon juice in warm water, then start work immediately. Usually we get carried away and eventually come to breakfast at about 9am. It works well because we then have a late lunch and a short siesta before settling in the cool lounge to watch the start of the Tour de France. We return to work in the afternoon but regularly check the TV for progress of the race until (with an hour or so to go) we finish work and again settle in the lounge to watch the last kilometres.

With the race over, we have showers then prepare dinner.

As the sun goes down and a long twilight settles over us, we head off to the fienile with our meal and a book to do some serious relaxation. There is no greater reward for our day's work than resting our eyes on the cool greens of the forest and listening to the songs of birds who are grateful for the end of a hot day...




08 July 2015

The tiles have been cut and we're now laying them!

The past week has been hot.

Temperatures have been between 33 and 35 degrees consistently and humidity has been 60-70%.

Our house's 60cm thick stone walls mean that it's cooler inside than outside by 8-10 degrees so it has been good to have an inside task to keep us busy during the heatwave.

In the first half of the week, Stu cut tiles and for the last few days we've worked together to lay them. It's exhausting, mixing a very heavy and gooey glue that seems to have weird sticking power, then getting up and down off the floor for hours. It's especially hard as we're trying to get the floor level with the rest of the house.

Stu has also covered the utility wall, behind which all of the piping is hidden.

Once we finish tiling the floor, I will start grouting while Stu commences the upright tiling on the wall.

Above: The bathroom half tiled

Above: The entry passage tiled and ready to be tidied around the walls and grouted

Above: The utility wall lined...a trial positioning confirms that the toilet and bidet will fit!


07 July 2015

Hovering around our lavender

The life we have here in Italy is precious.

We are often reminded of the vast differences between Italy and Australia, as nature is always revealing something new to we foreigners.

Our little valley is protected from the vines above us by a thick forest, which means that our environment is free from any chemicals that may occasionally be used in the vineyards.

This purity means that we host an amazingly diverse collection of birds and insects.

At dawn and dusk, we are woken by birdsong which reminds us to appreciate the new day. During breakfast, we sit and watch the birds as they hop around our grass, finding insects and items for nest building. At night, we turn off our lights and venture outside in the pitch black to see the lucciole (fireflies) that light our valley. During the day, we watch vast numbers of bees as they hover around our spring wildflowers and lavender.

This is how we live our days normally...but sometimes nature reveals something new and special to us...and today was one such day.

We were outside with some friends when we noticed a strange humming noise coming from our flowering lavender.

Closer inspection revealed a very unusual insect, one that we hadn't seen before. It was large and furry and had a very long proboscis. Its wings were flapping so fast that it was able to hover above each lavender stem much like a hummingbird.

We watched this beautiful creature hover and hum from flower to flower until our friends left and the heat sent us indoors, where an internet search revealed that our new little friend was a "bee moth" or a hummingbird hawk-moth.

Another new experience for we foreigners...

"The hummingbird hawk-moth has a long proboscis and its hovering behaviour, accompanied by an audible humming noise, make it look like a hummingbird while feeding on flowers.

It is distributed throughout the northern Old World from Portugal to Japan, but is resident only in warmer climates (southern Europe, North Africa, and points east).

The bee moth is a strong flier and can be found virtually anywhere in the hemisphere in the summer. However it rarely survives the winter in northern latitudes (e.g. north of the Alps in Europe).

It flies during the day, especially in bright sunshine, but also at dusk, dawn, and even in the rain, which is unusual for even diurnal hawkmoths. It has a relatively good ability to learn colours.

It is highly active even when temperatures are high, and thoracic temperatures above 45 °C have been measured. This is among the highest recorded for hawk-moths, and near the limit for insect muscle activity.

The hummingbird hawk-moth can be easily seen in gardens, parks, meadows, bushes, and woodland edge, where the preferred food plants grow (honeysuckle, red valerian and many others).

Adults are particularly fond of nectar-rich flowers with a long and narrow calyx, since they can then take advantage of their long proboscis and avoid competition from other insects. They are reported to trap-line, that is, to return to the same flower beds at about the same time each day."


Above: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird_hawk-moth


05 July 2015

It's thrown its toys out of the cot!

Australians use some colourful phrases and some of my favourites are those used to describe someone who is bad-tempered. We say that they have "spat the dummy" or "thrown their toys out of the cot".

Well, today I saw something here that reminded me of the second of these phrases.

Yesterday I posted about our resident pine marten and the fact that these animals have "den sites, which...include rock crevices, tree cavities, subterranean burrows, buildings, old bird nests, squirrel dreys and log piles".

Since we have all of the above, we expect our pine marten to breed happily here.

The weather over the last few days has been excruciating (35 degrees) so I ventured out early this morning to weed and water the gardens. I did the house garden first, then headed past the woodpile to the vege garden. At the woodpile, I noticed about 20 pieces of wood lying in a heap on the ground.

It looked as if the woodpile had "thrown its toys out of the cot" and I had a little smile at the thought before making a mental note to re-stack them once I'd finished weeding and watering.

A few minutes later, I heard a very strong movement coming from inside the woodpile. Whatever had made the sound was big and heavy and I suspect that it was our pine marten. It seems it may have been "throwing its toys out of the cot" in order to make a den in the woodpile...


04 July 2015

Our furry friend

One early morning this month, I heard a scrapping noise outside. I dived out of bed to look out of the window where I saw two animals leaping and jumping around my lavender plants outside the front fienile window. They were beautiful to watch. They leaped with the slow-motion grace of a circus trapeze act.

On closer inspection, I realised that one was trying to catch the other. I continued to watch as the larger animal finally caught the smaller animal before crouching down to wait for its prey to cease struggling. When the larger animal stretched up, I got a clear view of its long body, bushy tail, cat-like face and white neck.

It was in these few short seconds that I realised that the captured animal was a dormouse....but I had no idea what the other animal was! I had never before seen such an animal in my life!

It turns out that this beautiful, graceful specimen is a pine marten!

Our neighbour tells us that it is a wonderful thing to have a pine marten. Apparently these animals hunt and eat dormouse and rats so they keep vermin populations down.

Indeed, this spring we have had far less vermin in our roof and shed than usual...and we've been noticing some unusual excrement around the place that contains cherry seeds!

"The pine marten...is related to wildlife such as the stoat, otter and badger. Because de-forestation and hunting significantly reduced its population in the 19th century it has been classified as a protected species in Europe since 1992.

The adult pine marten is about the size of a domestic cat and has a long tail that can be half the length of its body. It has a rich fur coat, typically dark brown in colour and a distinguishing creamy-yellow throat patch.

Pine marten require forest or scrub habitat to exist in an area. They are adept at climbing trees as they have powerful non-retractable claws. The species is primarily active at night and individuals live in territories that can vary in size from 60 hectares to 430 hectares. Life expectancy can be up to 10 years, although the majority of individuals are unlikely to survive past 5 years in the wild.

Pine martens eat berries, fruits, small mammals, invertebrates, birds and amphibians.

Den sites, which are only occupied during the breeding season, include rock crevices, tree cavities, subterranean burrows, buildings (abandoned or occupied), old bird nests, squirrel dreys and log piles.

Pine marten are solitary and adults avoid contact with each other throughout most of the year.

The species only breeds once, with mating occurring in early summer between adults that are at least 2 years old. Fertilised eggs are not implanted in the uterus until the following January ("delayed implantation"). In March or April, 2-3 kits will be born and they will stay with their mother until they are between 6 and 16 months old.


Above: http://www.wildlifearticles.co.uk/pine-martens-return-to-cornwall/
Above: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_pine_marten#